Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s recently stated support for “equal rights in employment” for gays is raising questions about whether he supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — as well as the extent to which he would back other LGBT rights issues.
The current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination said he backs employment protections last week during an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan as he noted gay appointments made during his time as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.
Asked which gay rights he favors, Romney replied, “Well, equal rights in employment, equal rights in — for instance, as the governor, I had members of my team that were gay, I appointed a couple of judges, who, apparently, I find later, were gay.”
Romney didn’t say whether he thinks these protections should be instituted through legislation or some other manner.
A Romney campaign spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the remarks mean that the the candidate supports ENDA, pending legislation that would bar job discrimination in most situations for LGBT Americans in the public and private workforce.
Romney’s support for employment rights — through ENDA or otherwise — is unusual for Republican presidential candidates early on during the primary season. Candidates usually veer hard right to win support among social conservatives who participate in Republican primaries. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, for example, have said they would reinstitute “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if elected.
Still, support for ENDA from Romney would be consistent with a previously articulated position he held in 1994 when he was running against the late Sen. Edward Kennedy for his seat representing Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate.
In a letter to the Log Cabin Republicans, Romney recalled earlier conversations he’s had with the group and said he would be a co-sponsor of ENDA and would seek to expand the provisions in the legislation.
Additionally, Romney pledged to “make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern” and said Kennedy, who was known as a champion of LGBT rights in the Senate, would be unable to make that promise to the LGBT community.
“We have discussed a number of important issues such as the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which I have agreed to co-sponsor, and if possible broaden to include housing and credit, and the bill to create a federal panel to find ways to reduce gay and lesbian youth suicide, which I also support,” Romney wrote.
It should be noted that the version of ENDA that was pending before Congress at the time offered protections based only on sexual orientation and didn’t include language protecting transgender people in employment.
Romney also said the then-recently enacted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law was the compromise that was a step in the right direction and “the first in a number of steps” that will ultimately lead to open service in the U.S. military.
According to a 1994 article from Bay Windows, Romney also articulated support for ENDA during a public meeting of the Massachusetts Log Cabin Club with his then-Republican opponent, John Lakian. The meeting between Republican candidates and the gay group was hailed as a milestone for LGBT rights in Massachusetts.
“I will fight against discrimination of any kind throughout our system,” Romney was quoted as saying. “I don’t know exactly where you legislate and where you don’t legislate or how you make that work and where you don’t. But I am not limiting my support of equal rights for all people just to [U.S. Rep.] Barney Frank’s legislation in the area of employment. I would be happy to continue the fight in other areas such as credit and housing.”
Romney reportedly touted that Bain & Company, a Boston-based management consulting firm whose board he chaired, had explicit directions regarding equal employment opportunity in hiring and promotions.
But Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality, said the support that Romney expressed for ENDA in 1994 doesn’t square with his later actions as governor and predicted he wouldn’t keep his promise to support the legislation.
“That’s all the same stuff that he said when he ran for governor in 2002, and then once he was governor, I mean, do a Google search, and you’ll find out how quickly he positioned himself as anti-LGBT in order to benefit his own political career,” she said.
Suffredini predicted that Romney would be “pretty bad” for the LGBT community as a whole as president because of the inconsistency with which he addressed LGBT issues as governor.
“I would say based on his record as governor here that the only thing consistent about Romney’s relationship with the LGBT community is how inconsistent he is,” Suffredini said.
Suffredini said during his campaign as governor, Romney pledged to sign a civil rights bill for the LGBT community. However upon taking office, she said he took several anti-gay actions, such as abolishing a governor’s commission on LGBT youth, which the legislature later reinstated; rescinding an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation; and discouraging the Massachusetts Department of Public Health from releasing data on public health disparities.
Romney also struck a markedly different tone on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Monday during the Republican presidential debate compared to what he expressed in his 1994 letter to Log Cabin.
“I believe it should have been kept in place until conflict was over,” Romney said, invoking an argument that opponents of repeal employed when legislation that would end the military’s gay ban was pending before Congress.
Romney’s position on ENDA could become a more prominent issue as he advances through the Republican primaries.
Romney remains the front-runner in the Republican presidential field among potential participants in the early primaries. According to recent polls from Public Policy Polling, Romney leads by six points in Iowa, 23 in New Hampshire, nine in South Carolina and 15 in Nevada.
Further, Romney could be the Republican presidential candidate who has the strongest chance against President Obama in 2012. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll published last week, Romney leads Obama in a head-to-head contest by a margin of 49-46.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization would hold Romney to his promises on ENDA should he win the Republican nomination and go on to challenge President Obama in 2012.
“Gov. Romney recently stated on CNN he opposes discrimination and supports equal rights in employment,” Cooper said. “We hope he would stand by his pledge from 17 years ago to prevent discrimination in the workplace and support ENDA.”
While Romney’s position on most LGBT issues may have changed over the years, on one issue he has maintained consistent opposition: same-sex marriage.
During his interview on CNN last week, Romney reiterated his previously stated opposition to same-sex marriage.
“What happened was that the gay community changed as to what they wanted,” Romney said during the CNN interview. “When I ran for governor, one of the big issues was marriage, gay marriage. My opponent said she would sign a bill in favor of gay marriage. I said I would not, that I opposed same-sex marriage. At the same time, I would advance the — if you will — the efforts not to discriminate against people who are gay.”
According to Bay WIndows, Romney stated his opposition to same-sex marriage at the Log Cabin forum 17 years ago when he was seeking the Republican nomination in the U.S Senate race.
“I stand with Gov. [Bill] Weld on that,” he was quoted as saying, “and say that in my view it is not appropriate to authorize legally same-sex marriages and I will continue to endorse that view.”
In 2003, After the Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage rights for gay couples, Romney backed various state measures that would have rolled back marriage rights for gay couples in the Bay State. Romney also voiced support for a U.S. constitutional amendment known as the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would ban same-sex marriages throughout the country.
Additionally, Romney renewed enforcement of a 1913 law preventing out-of-state couples from marrying in Massachusetts to prevent gay couples from coming into the Bay State to wed. The law has since been repealed by the state Legislature.
Suffredini recalled that as governor, Romney “positioned himself as a national leader” during this time when the first state in the nation was attempting to advance marriage rights for gay couples.
“He did everything he could here to prevent marriage equality — even going so far as to resurrect what we call here the 1913 law, basically an anti-miscegnation law, which hadn’t been enforced in decades,” Suffredini said. “He resurrected it specifically in his words to prevent the spread of same-sex marriage to other states, and what it did was it prevented gays and lesbians from other states from coming here and marrying.”
Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, said Romney’s frequent position changes on LGBT issues make it difficult to predict how friendly to the LGBT community he’d be as president.
“It’s hard to know which Mitt Romney will show up,” Sainz said. “He’s gone back and forth more on issues of equality than a revolving door at a hotel and appears willing to say whatever the audience in front of him will want to hear.”
Still, some remain hopeful that Romney will continue his support for ENDA. Sainz said the decision for Republican candidates on whether or not to support ENDA should be easy.
“It should be a no-brainer for Republican presidential candidates to support legislation that allows all Americans to work and support their families,” Sainz said.